aka THE BLOOD OF HEROES
(David Webb Peoples, 1989)
Probably the greatest post-apocalyptic sports movie ever made, Salute of the Jugger is David Webb Peoples single directorial credit. He is a highly-regarded screenwriter, responsible for the scripts for Blade Runner, Unforgiven and Twelve Monkeys. If those stories have anything in common, it is a good sense of what works in genre cinema and a certain bold mythic quality to the storytelling.
His only film as director has similar qualities. It establishes its world in the opening scene, which is filmed in a few powerful, classical compositions, utilising the bleak majesty of the Australian desert locations. It is many years in a future after some awful apocalypse. Mankind lives in medievel-style market towns, scrabbling for a living. Teams of Juggers travel from town to town, playing their Game - a mix of gridiron and murder - for money and to entertain crowds. In the Nine Cities, located deep beneath the surface of the earth, civilization survives in the form of an aristocracy. The Game is played there too, in the brutal League, where Juggers are pampered and live well.
We follow Sallow (Rutger Hauer) and his team of Juggers as they encounter Kidda (Joan Chen). Ambitious, she joins the team and begins encouraging Sallow to return to the Nine Cities, from where he was banished years before, in order to challenge a league team, the only way for a "Dogtown" Jugger to get noticed and earn a nice life.
This is a post-apocalyptic world without many of the Road Warrior cliches. It feels more feudal and dark ages than Western. Salllow and his team walk across the wilderness rather than drive, and the bleached out world they inhabit recalls nothing else so much as bible movies in its visual scheme. The content is obviously different; adopting a pretty standard sports movie template of manipulative passage to crucial climactic game, it works surprisingly well. The Game allows Peoples to indulge in both sports and action scenes simultaneously, and he brings in slo-mo, montages, and sets up the conflicts and stakes for the final game with an excellent economy. The characters are all relatively quiet individuals, but Peoples dialogue is generally strong, and the starkness of his people suits this world of myth and archetype. The Game is simple, its rules and codes established in the first instance of play, a good example of the efficiency of Peoples' work here.
Visually his film looks splendid, given its limited budget. The first half, in particular, makes the Australian landscape look amazingly bleak and beautiful, while the second is a study in shadow and light in the subterranean darkness of the Cities.
And while the whole thing is a little silly, it is played with compelling conviction by the talented cast, and the storytelling is excellent throughout. It makes you wish Peoples had directed again.